By Angela Dorizas
The inaugural meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government (ACLG) held today in Canberra marked a significant milestone in the history of local and federal government relations.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd flew in this morning from the G-20 Summit in Washington to launch the ACLG, one of the biggest gatherings of elected representatives in Australia’s history.
“Today we turn a page and begin a new era in the relationship between Australia’s national government and the local governments that represent local communities across our nation,” Mr Rudd said.
“Never before have councils from different states and territories been brought together in a forum like this.”
Mr Rudd outlined three goals for the first ACLG meeting: to establish a “stronger and more coherent” relationship between the federal and local spheres of government; to discuss constitutional recognition of local government; and to begin work on planning reform to improve local infrastructure.
“At the last election, Federal Labor said that we would take steps towards Constitutional recognition of local government and we intend to deliver on that commitment,” Mr Rudd said.
The Commonwealth first attempted to give Constitutional recognition to local government in 1974 under the Whitlam government and again in 1988 under Prime Minister Hawke. But when faced with opposition from the Liberal and National parties, the former Labor governments failed to introduce it, Mr Rudd said.
“That’s why we have not pre-determined a time line or a set of words. This must be got right. And rather than us simply dictating from on high what that should be, we want to take your views into account.”
Mr Rudd said a new relationship between the federal and local spheres of government was critical in dealing with the global financial crisis.
“Just as the G-20 meeting was critical to the future of the global economy, today’s meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government is also important to our national economy,” Mr Rudd said.
“You cannot have a strong national economy if you don’t have strong local economies, because local government has an important role in strengthening and stimulating local economies, local business and local jobs.
“That is one of the reasons why the Government attaches priority to a new partnership with local government. Your role in the economy.”
Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) president, Cr Paul Bell, said the ACLG meeting was a world first and a significant moment for local councils across Australia.
“It is a very important occasion in the history of local government,” Cr Bell said.
“This meeting highlights the close relationship we are building between the Commonwealth and local government. This is a relationship which is evolving and strengthening and this is evidenced by the high turn-out of mayors here today – over 80 per cent of mayors and shire presidents are present.”
Cr Bell praised Prime Minister Rudd and the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Anthony Albanese, for the “strong personal interest” they have shown in the “fortunes” of local government. He also pointed to Treasurer Wayne Swan’s attendance as a symbol of the shift in federal-local relations.
“That, I think, is in itself symbolic of how far we have moved forward in our relationship.”
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